May 2011

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Here’s a detailed overview from the National Secular Society about the latest claims of victimisation of Christians (Christian Legal Centre goes into bully mode as doctor claims religious persecution) that I blogged about recently.  Apparently the doctor’s practice requires to to actively opt-out from their evangelising.  This is even openly stated on an NHS website.  Isn’t that in itself something for the GMC to investigate?

 

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Recently Larry Moran (Sandwalk) has been working his way through Jonathan Wells’ latest literary effort, The Myth of Junk DNA. The latest installment is Sandwalk: Junk & Jonathan: Part 8—Chapter 5.

Dr Dr Wells, of course, is the Discovery Institute Fellow who is one of the speakers at C4ID’s secret summer school this year (actually the existence of the summer school’s not a secret, but they’re keeping the identities of the participants secret).

Anyway, Moran’s deconstruction of The Myth of Junk DNA is rooted in a detailed look at what all that DNA is, how one defines “junk”, how perceptions of the apparently non-functional DNA has changed as genome science has moved forward (in a way that the non-science of Intelligent Design creationism can not), and mis-citation of sources.  The latest installment deals with pseudogenes.  It’s worth catching up with the whole set of articles.

 

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I notice that the Centre for Intelligent Design is ramping up the publicity for their ID Summer School, which I’ve blogged about recently. This publicity includes some video clips of the speakers in action (at the moment, Jonathan Wells and Steve Fuller have videos up).  They are quite interesting for their content, which makes me wonder on what basis they were chosen.  I guess they were abstracted from longer videos.

Dr Dr Jonathan Wells, who has a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology and a PhD in Religious Studies, is a member of Revd Moon’s Unification Church (these are the “Moonies” that were much portrayed in the press as predatory cultists back in the 1970s), and is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. His video clip has him saying we just don’t know how we could get from a jellyfish to a trilobite or a fish, saying evolution is just dogma.  Interestingly, in this clip he does say that he doesn’t believe the jellyfish are the ancestors of trilobites or of fish.  Well, neither do I, but I suspect my reasons for not believing this are a bit different from his.

Professor Steve Fuller is a sociologist at the University of Warwick.  He testified at the famous Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School Board court case in the USA (at which the judgement, which cited his testimony, was firmly against Intelligent Design as a credible scientific theory).  The video clip here is quite bizarre, and looks as if it’s a section taken during the question and answer session from a lecture, comprising a very animated but weird argument along the lines of evolution being only a theory.  That old canard again.

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Barbara Forrest has published an interesting article on the absurd pro-creationist Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) (Respect Requires Repeal | Louisiana Progress). Forrest has a particularly strong track record in exposing the antics of creationists in the USA and was an expert witness in the famous 2005 Dover trial, which exposed Intelligent Design as a cynical scam intended to circumvent constitutional prohibition of religious teaching in US schools. Since 2005, the push to include creationist teaching has become rather nuanced, with legislation couched in ‘codewords’ which to the unaware can sound entirely reasonable.  For example, as Forrest observes:

The LSEA permits teachers to use “supplementary” materials in order to promote “critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Recent anti-science legislation in the US (rarely successful, except in Louisana) revolves around including weaselly code words like “critical thinking” (which means the opposite – uncritical acceptance of biblical passages), “teaching the controversy”, “strengths and weaknesses of evolution”, and now “academic freedom”.  But what’s this got to do with the UK? I was quite struck by Forrest’s comment that

Virtually every significant creationism outbreak in the United States since 1999 has been the product of DI’s [DI is the Discovery Institute] aggressive execution of its “Wedge Strategy” for getting intelligent design into public schools. Typically, DI operatives arrive on the scene after local Religious Right groups do the initial spadework, a pattern that DI followed in Louisiana, where its proxy, the LFF, had promoted creationism for a decade.

A recent development in the UK has been the establishment of the Centre for Intelligent Design in Glasgow.  I’ve blogged several times about this outfit, and its rather shallow attempt to portray Intelligent Design as some kind of scientific theory.  But if we look at the three main figures at C4ID, we see a particular religious focus.

Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID’s Director, holds a PhD in chemistry and has considerable experience as a teacher (and has held numerous posts in relation to teaching).  From the BCSE website:

Noble is an elder of the Cartsbridge Evangelical Church in Glasgow (see http://www.cartsbridgechurch.com) and a lay preacher.[...] He is also Educational Consultant to (and former Education Officer of) CARE in Scotland.  [...] CARE describes itself as “a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives. CARE is represented in the UK Parliaments and Assemblies, at the EU in Brussels and the UN in Geneva and New York.”

Alastair Noble is the most visible face of C4ID.  However there is a President (Professor Norman Nevin) and a Vice President (Dr David Galloway), though Professor Nevin and Dr Galloway seem to keep a rather lower media profile than their Director.

Professor Norman Nevin OBE, the President of C4ID, is a retired medical geneticist.  As far as BCSE can find out, he is a biblical literalist:

BCSE has done a considerable amount of research on Professor Nevin’s position on creationism; it suggests that he is basically a hard line Biblical literalist. We’ve presented the evidence on our bog at http://bcseweb.blogspot.com/search/label/Nevin. It also suggests that he has some severe shortcomings in his knowledge of the science he seems to use to back up his creationist position.

Professor Nevin is an elder in the largest Brethren church in Northern Ireland (the Crescent Church in Belfast – see http://www.iguidez.com/Belfast/crescent_church/). It’s large by any British standards and is believed to have a capacity of some 2,000 people.

Dr David Galloway is, in addition to being Vice President of C4ID, a surgeon and the Vice President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.  He’s a member of the Lennox Evangelical Church in Dumbarton.  According to the BCSE,

This church is about as fundamentalist as they get and openly promotes young earth creationism to children. It links to this web site – http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/index.html – which looks to be dedicated to promoting the work of young earth creationist Walt Brown.

Having said that, Dr Galloway’s website has a comprehensive (if incomprehensible to this reader) set of pages devoted to denying that life may have originated through natural processes and species evolved, again through natural processes.

So we have a trio of very religious individuals (from an evangelical and/or fundamentalist background), at least two of whom openly espouse creationism (I include Intelligent Design as creationism), running an outfit supposedly pushing a concept which they claim is not a creationist or religious concept, but one of science.

So, what’s this got to do with Forrest’s essay?  Well, Forrest’s observation that in promoting a creationist agenda, “Typically, DI operatives arrive on the scene after local Religious Right groups do the initial spadework” caught my eye.  Is this what’s happening in the UK?  I’ve blogged previously about the upcoming C4ID Summer School, to be held in what look to be rather splendid premises owned and run by the Elim Pentecostalists.  Looking at the instructors, one immediately notes the paucity of biologists – only two appeared to be biologists, and one of those is from the Discovery Institute.  Is this the beginning of the appearance of “DI Operatives” and their UK equivalents?

Once the summer school has been held, those of us outside the UK creationist and ID camp will no doubt find it hard to discover what went on at the summer school, as the application requirements are in places rather restrictive:

Applicants should be able to demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the design argument. One purpose of the school is to build a network of emerging professionals across the disciplines who are conversant with the arguments for intelligent design. Because of professional sensitivities, participation in the conference will be handled in strict confidence and with anonymity.

At the risk of offending the C4ID triumvirate, perhaps they are doing “the spadework”, and gearing up to invite “DI Operatives”, while at the same time building up a network of professionals that will be working behind the scenes to promote Intelligent Design creationism.  A secret network, by the sound of it.  All very George Smiley.

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The Telegraph outlines a case where a Kent GP pushes christianity at his patients (Doctors can be Christians, too) – the mother or one of his patients objected to his pushing his religion:

All he did was to share his conviction that a commitment to the Christian religion could be one element that contributed to a recovery from illness (my emphasis). If the patients objected, or made it clear that they did not like the turn of the conversation, he dropped the topic.

The dear old Telegraph appears to think this complaint is unreasonable – at least if the GMC plan to take action, which they appear to.  It isn’t, the actions of this GP seem to me to be unreasonable – at least if the Telegraph’s report is in any way accurate.  Any road, (according to the Freethinker) the GP is apparently refusing to accept censure by the GMC and is taking the case to the Christian Legal Centre (the people who appear to have inexhaustible funds to support unwinnable cases on behalf of aggrieved christians) – though there’s no mention of their website.  That’ll be the end of that, I guess.

It doesn’t stop the Telegraph from spouting the irritating old canard that christians are unfairly treated in comparison to other religions.

Yawn.  This isn’t a case of someone professing a faith and being punished for it.  It’s actually a case of someone acting unprofessionally – to claim that a commitment to christianity (and presumably not any of the other odd belief systems in the world) aids recovery is, it seems to me, most unwise as medical advice!

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Today’s Jesus and Mo seems relevant to Intelligent Design creationism…

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The BCSE announces on their blog (Close that loophole Mr. Gove) that a letter from CrISIS has today been delivered to Michael Gove at the Department for Education formally asking him to close the loophole that allows creationists into state funded schools to present Creationism to our children as a valid scientific fact.

If you haven’t done so yet – please sign the petition.

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